MASERU –– Lerotholi Polytechnic was yesterday forced to call off its annual graduation ceremony after a student at the college was allegedly assaulted to death by colleagues.
College registrar Motlatsi Ntsála told the Sunday Express that a male student was assaulted to death on Tuesday during what is known as “treatment” –– a bullying routine targeted specifically at new students.
The student was found dead in the school campus on Tuesday, Ntsála said.
“The school council decided to cancel the graduation while investigations were still going on to get to the bottom of this death,” Ntsála said.
He said the student was found lying behind the class buildings by his lecturer.
“He was found lying helplessly behind one of the buildings. He was unconscious. He was quickly rushed to hospital where he died later,” he said.
Ntsála said the commission which is investigating the case suspected he could have been immersed head first in a bathtub full of water by other students.
“He might have been drowned. Some students said they saw him coming out of the bathroom naked,” he said.
“According to their explanation, first-year students are stripped naked during their so-called treatment.”
He said students revealed that it was campus culture.
According to students, first-year students are stripped naked, forced to stand in a cold shower and to gulp five litres of water.
“They call it culture. They said victims are threatened that if they reveal the treatment, they will be dealt with,” Ntsála said.
He said it was suspected that some lecturers could be part of the so-called “treatments”.
Students said victims were threatened that they would not receive learning materials if they did not take part in the “cultural” rite.
“Some lecturers are believed to be part of the torture. Names have been given and they are still being investigated,” Ntsála said.
He said the school management and council have been doing all they can to eradicate the practice.
“The school has always said no to ‘treatment’. It is inhumane,” Ntsála said.
“Many students have been expelled from school for doing it on others. But it seems they cannot learn their lessons.”
Graduates at the Lerotholi Polytechnic College and their parents were disappointed that the graduation ceremony was postponed at the last minute.
Students said college rector Tsietsi Lebakae told them on Friday at around 10pm that the graduation ceremony had been postponed because it was suspected that a student had been murdered by other students.
Angry students said they had spent a lot of money to prepare for the graduation.
They said they felt like they had been robbed since their money had gone to waste.
“It feels like we have been robbed,” one graduate said.
“We spent so much money to buy everything we needed for the graduation.
“Now, out of nowhere, Lebakae tells us that there is no more graduation.
“Lebakae and the management are irresponsible.
“They knew on Tuesday that the student had died.
“They should have announced then instead of telling people only a few hours before the graduation ceremony.”
Students said Lebakae walked out on them on Friday night in a meeting where they were trying to get him to explain the sudden cancellation.
“At around 11pm, he ran away from our questions,” another student said.
“He claimed the minister of education had called him for a meeting.
“It seemed unreal that the minister would want to meet him at that time.”
They said even though the management’s excuse for the postponement could be understandable, they were concerned by Lebakae’s “dodgy behaviour”.
“He is so dodgy it makes us suspicious if the death of the student is the only reason they have cancelled the ceremony. Students have died before but graduations have been held despite the bereavement,” said another irate student.
“In 2006, a graduate student died. But the ceremony was held.”
They said they were going to demand that management refunds their M150 graduation fees.
‘Malira Lira, a parent, said she had prepared a feast back home in Leribe for her son’s graduation.
Lira said she could not have wasted money on the feast had the management announced earlier that the graduation had been postponed.
“I used over M5 000 to prepare for the feast. I wanted my baby to celebrate with his friends and family,” she said.
“I am so disappointed that the ceremony did not go on as planned.”
Meanwhile students yesterday approached the High Court through lawyer Haae Phofoolo demanding that the graduation proceed.
A small group of students attended the urgent application case at 3pm at the High Court.
The respondents were the registrar, rector, council of the college and the college itself.
The parties however agreed to an out-of-court settlement.
Under the agreement there will be no graduation ceremony, but students will get their diplomas and certificates.
Those that had paid graduation fees will be reimbursed.
Some of the students started receiving their certificates yesterday afternoon.